Let’s Discuss – Why Authors Write Insta-Love (No, Really – I Think I Know)

January 24, 2015 Let's Discuss 48

2015 Discussion Challenge3

We all know that insta-love is one of the biggest bookish sins. Almost everyone hates it. Really, when was the last time you read a book with insta-love and thought, “I’m so glad those characters fell in love as soon as they met. I hate it when characters wait a whole week or two before they really fall for each other”? Um, never. (Though, I did do a post awhile back about whether or not insta-love could ever work and found that there are times it’s more palatable than others.)

So, why do authors do it? Do they just have no idea that readers don’t like insta-love? Have they never read a review of a book with insta-love, so they’re just unaware it’s a problem? Are they just lazy? I don’t think so.

Okay, so I exaggerated when I said I think I know why authors write insta-love, but I do have a couple of good ideas about why it might happen sometimes!

Since I’ve been editing (and since I started writing my own book for NaNoWriMo), I’ve noticed something. Books don’t read the same way when you’re working on them as they do when you’re just reading them from cover to cover. In the process of editing, I’ve noticed that even really awesome authors sometimes make the love connection between their characters too soon. And it also made me realize that insta-love is actually a lot harder to spot when you’re in the process of writing (and even sometimes, to a lesser extent, in the process of editing).  I think there are two main reasons why:

The author is already connected to their characters

When an author begins writing, they’ve usually been thinking about their plot and their characters for some time. That’s not to say that the characters don’t grow and morph while the author is writing, but in some ways, the author already feels like they know these characters before they’ve even begun writing. When writing a romance within a story, the author can feel the connection between their main characters before they’ve even written a word. They’ve imagined interactions between these two people that, in their eyes, have incredible weight because they feel personal. Whereas, when the reader is just getting to know these characters, the interactions might not hold as much significance (at least at the beginning of a book). In some ways, I think the author might be blinded by their love for the love between their characters. It’s hard to keep it all in perspective!

His Sister's Keeper

Marathoning a TV show can make the romances seem a bit more like insta-love too. When you don’t have a week between episodes, you notice more that the characters just met! (Yep, I noticed this when I marathoned The 100 – still love it, though!)

The writing process is slow

The second reason I think that insta-love doesn’t seem as egregious to authors sometimes is because the writing process takes SO much longer than it takes to read a book. So, while you got from the page where the characters met to the page where they’re declaring their love for each other in about 15 minutes, the author may have worked on those pages for two weeks (or longer)! That’s two weeks of thinking about these characters all the time, imagining their next interaction, imagining where the author ultimately wants the story to go … let’s face it, in a lot of books, the characters actually falling in love is just a small step toward where the author wants the overall story to lead. It’s easy to spend those two weeks on it and feel like that’s sufficient. I know from the small amount of writing that I’ve done that creating a real connection between your characters amidst all of the other things that you want to have happen is actually darn hard (I already know I’m going to have to go back and fill in some more interactions between my characters – but I’m trying to focus on moving forward first).

I’ve found that these two issues can even affect me as I’m editing, to some extent. This is why I have to read the book from start to finish once through before I even begin to make edits. It’s the only way to get the true flow of the book and to see it through a reader’s eyes. I can then make suggestions to the author based on this experience. Because once I dive in and start focusing on the minutiae (and spending a long time going through each page), it can start to seem like maybe that relationship didn’t pop up quite so quickly after all. I actually have to remind myself of my first impressions and stick to them because I find myself more connected to the characters and more invested in the relationships the second time around and when I’m spending so much more time on each moment. It’s a different experience than just reading the book straight through once.

None of this is to say that insta-love should be forgiven – it’s just interesting (at least to me) to think about how it might come about in the first place! So, the moral of the story is: authors – make sure you get some great beta readers who will tell it like it is and, of course, a great editor who will help to make your book shine!

So, what do you think? Of course, these are certainly not the only reasons for insta-love, and these are just my opinion based on my experiences. Anybody have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

48 Responses to “Let’s Discuss – Why Authors Write Insta-Love (No, Really – I Think I Know)”

  1. kindlemom1

    I guess I have never really thought about why an author chooses to have insta love in their books. You have some good points though about the characters already being familiar to them. Hmm, I don’t know. I am going to have to think about this more.
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    • Nicole

      Yes, these are obviously just my opinions, but I do think that both of these aspects make it easier for an author to let insta-love slip in if they’re not careful!!

    • Nicole

      Oh, yes – insta-love is a huge pet peeve of mine as well. Editing has just made me a bit more aware of the writing process and of how it might happen. It’s fun to think a little bit about the why sometimes.

  2. Liliana @ Lili Lost in a Book

    Wow, this actually makes a lot of sense! I absolutely HATE insta-love and never *really* thought about how it came to be. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective! This probably wont change my opinion on the matter (well, not a lot, anyway), but I’ll definitely keep it in mind as I read these books (but hopefully I wont run into too many of them 😉 lol).
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    • Nicole

      Yes, I don’t think the reasoning really excuses insta-love, but it’s one of those things that you always think, “Why on earth would anyone ever write a book this way?” And then, through the editing process I realized that it’s not as obvious to the author sometimes – and these are my theories on why. Just goes to prove that input can be very important for an author because things like this sometimes take an outside perspective!

  3. Claudia {Sparrowhawk}

    Love your input and actually, I appreciate it so very much, because I have been a bit harsh in my reviews when it comes to this very subject. I can totally see how an author having established a connection with their characters, can seemingly take a romantic prose and pen it as if it has been established for years even. At the same time however, the reader doesn’t have this connection, and so there needs to be a middle ground between the two ends of this road. It’s not easy, which is why I appreciate it when an author develops on the romance in a subtle approach 🙂
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    • Nicole

      I’m pretty harsh on insta-love myself. And I’m still not a fan – even when I can kind of see how it happens. I now feel like I can kind of see how it might happen. Still, good editors and beta readers should help an author catch it before a book is published. 🙂

  4. Liza Barrett

    These are some REALLY good points. I know that I’m paranoid about writing insta-love, so I tend to intentionally approach my characters as having no interest in each other whatsoever until they eventually just force my hand. I haven’t gotten feedback either way on whether it works or not :/
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    • Nicole

      Ha! Yes, that might be the safest way – start with nothing even close to love and you know you can’t have insta-love!

    • Nicole

      Yes, I’ve always wondered about it too. You think, “Really? Don’t you know we all hate this?” But I do think it’s harder to keep that sort of thing in perspective when you’re writing. Still, hopefully writers have good people who can help them see things from a reader’s point of view!

  5. S. J. Pajonas

    This makes a lot of sense. But I often find that reviewers confuse insta-love and insta-attraction. It’s totally possible to be attracted to someone at first sight, lust after them, and feel a connection, but then real love comes later. Sure there are books with insta-love and they can be tiresome. But I find myself disagreeing with plenty of reviews about a book I read where someone will call it insta-love but it’s not, it’s just attraction. Anyway, I do fall in love with my characters way before a reader ever does. Lol. This is quite true.
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    • Nicole

      You make a really good point here. There is definitely a difference between insta-love and instant attraction, though sometimes the lines can be blurry. And there are even times that I think insta-love CAN work (I wrote a post about that awhile back). You’re right that instant attraction can be just fine – the only time I have an issue with that is when there are strange circumstances, like the character has never felt an attraction to this to anyone ever before, and they feel themselves drawn to the other person, and so on and so forth. That’s when the lines start to get a little hazier for me.

  6. Amanda P.

    I agree with you, but there are times when I also think that they are a little bit lazy. I think we forget that writing takes A LOT of energy. Like a lot a lot! And sometimes they just don’t want to put forth the effort to really dig deep and develop the romance. Because half of the time, it’s during the second, third, and forth revision that they have to fix the insta love. Great post! 🙂
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    • Nicole

      Yes, that’s probably sometimes true. Though I would contend that insta-love doesn’t have to be that hard to fix if the falling in love isn’t the main focus of an author’s book. Really, a couple of extra scenes of interaction and some time padding where you show that the characters have gotten to know each other can do the trick sometimes (depending on the book, of course). Still, I think you make a great point!

  7. Cynthia

    Those are good points and ones I had never considered. But also I think some authors are lazy (not saying that you are lazy, by any means!). But I think some authors don’t want to take the time to establish a connection between the two characters. Or maybe they don’t know how. And maybe the readers expect insta-love sometimes so the author gives the reader what they think the reader wants.
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    • Nicole

      Ha! You’re not the first person to suggest that laziness is behind insta-love! And you may very well be right. I know that the authors I work with have put their heart and souls into their books, so I don’t think that’s always the case – but it might be sometimes. And, definitely not knowing how could be an issue!

      • Cynthia

        Oh I did not mean to suggest that writers are lazy, per se. I know writers work REALLY hard on their craft. I write so I get it. I guess I meant more that it seems like a lazy plot device, you know what I mean? Like maybe it’s something that will grab the reader’s attention or something. Not sure I am explaining myself well. Ha. I just think sometimes writer’s use certain plot devices (like the insta-love) simply because they think readers want it.
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        • Nicole

          Well, that might be true – it never occurred to me, actually, that there might be writers who think readers WANT insta-love. I guess if books sell when they have that device …

    • Nicole

      I never really did either until I started editing and working closely with authors. The light bulb just kind of went off in my head when I was doing an edit and realizing that the romance wasn’t striking me as insta-lovey as it had during my first read. I realized that the longer you work on something, the more each little tiny moment means, and I thought, “Oh! Maybe this is why authors don’t always see it the way we do!”

  8. tonyalee

    Okay – devil’s advocate here. Do you think authors do it because they are lazy? Or because they just can’t write that build up romance??

    I see you points, and they are excellent. I will have to keep this in mind when reading a book that has it 🙂
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    • Terri M., the Director

      TonyaLee, I was thinking the same thing! Although a reader can usually tell if it is a matter of taking the easy way out or not. A book maybe really well-written and the attraction between the characters happens instantly vs. a book that is average or below and the only reason the characters seem to get together is because in order for the plot to move forward they have to be together.

      Not sure if well-written vs. not well written is exactly what I mean. Some books use insta-love as a plot device and that’s the insta-love I tend to dislike. Does that make sense?
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      • Nicole

        Yes, you are definitely right, Terri – sometimes the insta-love is just there to “get to” the part that the author’s really interested in. That is definitely frustrating!

    • Nicole

      Yeah, I’m sure there are cases where an author is being lazy. (You’re definitely not the first one to say this). Adding those relational moments takes time and work, that’s for sure. I DO think that, at least sometimes, the author just doesn’t quite see it, though – I think that’s when really listening to beta readers and editors can help!

  9. Kritika

    I have never thought about this from the author’s perspective! I love this post so much, because it makes me see something from another perspective and really rethink my own pet peeves. I can definitely see how a connection that seems gradual to an author may seem like insta-love to a reader. It makes me appreciate the well-written, gradual romances even more.
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    • Nicole

      Yes, it just kind of hit me that I was getting a different perspective on these books, being part of the writing process. I started to see how insta-love could happen (though that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be fixed!). And I definitely agree that it just enhances my appreciation of really well-written, slow-burning romances!

  10. Lola

    Interesting perspective! I never really thought about insta love like that, although just like many other readers I can’t stand it. I want to feel the connection between the characters before they fall in love. But like you said the author probably feels that connection earlier and it might not feel like insta love to them.

    And like Pajonas mentioned there is a difference between insta-love and insta-lust. I am okay with it if the characters feel an instant attraction, which then develops into more.

    Great post!
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    • Nicole

      Definitely! I agree that there is a big difference between characters being attracted to each other and falling instantly in love. I love thinking about these sorts of things – how did insta-love come to be if no one really likes it? It’s an interesting question, right?

  11. Danielle

    This is an awesome post! Makes so much sense especially the authors being connected to their characters already. I’m a big fan of the slow burn but I’m also a mood reader so insta-love can be totally fine some days. I’m also more figuring when reading adult romance novels in comparison to YA or NA for some reason!
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  12. Ella

    I think you bring up a lot of great points in this post. The Insta-Love thing can be a Catch-22 type of situation, though. If you make the characters fall in love too quickly it doesn’t seem genuine and REAL but if you take too much time to make them fall in love, the reader starts to get impatient and loses interest. I think writing about love between characters is just like real dating. You have to pace yourself but also let the personalities and chemistry of the characters lead you into more serious love territory. When I first started writing my book I had an insta-love issue so I fixed it by making them exes and they’re rekindling the love. Great post. Excellent points!
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    • Nicole

      Yes, I actually think that a lot of times fixing the insta-love problem doesn’t have to be a HUGE thing – you can give the characters some connection without totally re-writing your book. You just have to be aware that the problem is there! 🙂

  13. Ardelia

    I actually don’t think I’ve ever read a book with insta-love in it. Do you think it’s more prevalent in one genre over others, or does it just pop up wherever? I’ll have to check it out and see what I think. I can’t imagine I’ll like it very much, though. By the way, I think your theory makes perfect sense.
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    • Nicole

      I think it’s most prevalent in YA – kind of like the love triangle. It definitely happens in other types of books too, but YA and NA are definitely where I’ve seen it the most.

  14. Kathryn@Book Date

    I loathe Insta-love, I will turn a bit of a blind eye if everything else is great about the book. Interesting to read your view of why authors might do this and I guess it makes some sense, however I do think they need to be aware and build the relationship for the reader!
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    • Nicole

      Yes, definitely – I didn’t really mean to necessarily defend insta-love in this post (I still think it needs to be fixed) – just dig into the possible reasons why it might show up in the first place. I agree that I will occasionally turn a blind eye, but, for the most part, I’m not a fan of insta-love!!

    • Nicole

      Yes, I didn’t mean this really to be in defense of insta-love – I just like to think about the “why?” of things – I mean, why would an author ever write a book this way if they know people dislike it so much? I started to realize how it might happen (but it still needs to be fixed!) 🙂

  15. Bregje

    I think you’re probably right when saying that the time authors spend contemplating the relationship between two people highly effects how fast relationships seem to change in the actual story. I feel like this happens to me too sometimes when I’m writing a story.
    I also think that describing the change in a relationship between two people is the hardest thing to do. When I think about how in real life my opnion of people changes it is hard to define exact moments when you start to feel different towards someone. It’s usually a very subtle change that is hard to notice, especially at the moment of change.
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    • Bregje

      Something else that might affect the appearance of insta-love in YA is that YA stories tend to be action packed and fast paced compared to adult fiction. Teens often find adult fiction slow, or boring. Maybe authors might be afraid their YA audience will get bored with a relationship if it moves to slowly?

      • Nicole

        Ooh! This is a good point too! I do think that YA readers have a shorter attention span sometimes (I even sometimes think that about myself), so the device might be used to just plain speed things up sometimes.

    • Nicole

      You’re totally right – it’s often those little moments that do it, and those little moments can be hard to describe with significance!

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